A few years ago, a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study revealed that remote workers were more likely to say they felt that colleagues mistreat them and leave them out. When it came to common workplace challenges, 84% of those working remotely said the concern dragged on for days or more, and 47% admitted to allowing it to drag on for weeks or more.
When inclusion and fairness are missing, productivity and wellbeing are negatively impacted; as it turns out, things haven’t changed much since that report.
Remote workers are treated differently than those in-office
Today, corporate attitudes continue to treat remote workers differently even after an unprecedented global move to remote working caused by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Even though remote workers have proven to work longer hours and be overall more productive, according to the Wall Street Journal, people managers and executives are still not convinced remote workers have what it takes to succeed.
The Atlantic points to some studies that show even though remote employees might work hard and move up the corporate ladder, their salaries will not increase as much as their colleagues who make the daily commute to the office – and work fewer hours. And, managers tend to think that if they see a person sitting at their desk working, they must be hardworking and dependable employees.
The ability to prove one is hardworking seems too often to depend on face-time with the boss.
This is a problem for everyone, but it’s possible women will suffer the most from this kind of discrimination in the near term. A recent U.K. poll revealed that 69% of women with children who work remotely want to continue to do so at least one day per week, compared to 56% of men with children. This could result in greater gender disparity in senior roles when face-time is often required to prove you are worthy of promotion.
While the number of women in the office may decrease, one group is likely to be well represented: lower-income workers. According to HBR, many employers are rescinding the right to work remotely for lower-paid staff, even as they open up roles for highly paid employees to work from anywhere.
Sadly, negative mindsets about remote workers also present themselves in the form of discrimination and harassment. One in four respondents to a Silicon Valley survey reported they experienced more gender-based harassment while working remotely during the pandemic. Behaviors include yelling, uncomfortable or repeated questions about identity and appearance, and requests for dates or sex. Workers also reported greater workplace hostility that, in turn, creates a harmful environment. Age-based harassment was reported by 14% of respondents.
According to a Monster interview of several experts, virtual harassment, discrimination, and bias among remote teams are on the rise.
HR professionals and business leaders should take complaints from remote workers concerning misbehavior on phone calls, message apps, video calls, and email very seriously. Look for clues that point to the following issues experts have identified as being on the rise:
- Offensive or hostile language
- Intimidation or bullying
- Gender harassment and racial intimidation
- Exclusion from meetings
- Inappropriate comments and belittling
According to HBR, creating a work environment where everyone feels respected, accepted, supported and valued, while providing for everyone to have an opportunity to participate in decision-making and have development opportunities is a challenge to gauge and measure. Yet, it’s critical for unlocking the potential of a diverse workforce. HBR recommends that regularly measuring employee sentiment is the best way to track inclusion.
Focus areas to create good corporate culture
Beyond gauging metrics, David Liddle, author of “Transformational Culture,” shared with Forbes that companies should focus on the following terms that he believes are central to good organizational culture:
- Just: This speaks to a blend of organizational accountability and the need to protect relationships and to engender dialogue, learning, and growth.
- Fair: The systems and structure of the organization should deliver equity, employees should be heard, and concerns, conduct complaints, and conflicts should be resolved constructively.
- Inclusive: Leaders and people managers should amplify what Liddle calls “the inner brilliance” of all employees.
- Sustainable: While meeting the organization’s business needs, companies should minimize harm to our planet.
- High-performing: The employees of an organization work in harmony toward a common purpose to achieve the best results for everyone.
While no one has a magic formula to make everyone respectful of each other in the workplace, it is in the best interest of any business to do all it can to nurture a workplace culture that is fair and inclusive for all – including remote workers.
As business leaders, we also need to remember that fairness and inclusion start at the top. Suppose your leadership team has a negative mindset about people who want to continue working remotely after the pandemic. In that case, there is an opportunity for a substantial impact on your workplace culture through executive education. The reward will be greater productivity and wellbeing for the entire organization through fairness and inclusion.